In some of my golf tips I tell the story about playing a course which had severe fairway undulations. I could see where the course would be discouraging for recreational golfers. I seldom had a flat lie on the course. In fact, it was so hilly, I was almost always hitting from some kind of slope. More often than not, I was hitting down hill.
If you’ve ever played a course like this—and you probably have—you know how tricky hitting from a downhill lie can be. It’s especially difficult for recreational golfers, who are sometimes intimidated by a downhill slope and/or have little experience hitting from this type of lie. The resulting effort isn’t pretty and does nothing to lower the player’s golf handicap.
Hitting from a downhill slope is primarily a matter of making the right adjustments. I cover these in my golf lessons and golf tips but, obviously, there’s nothing like hitting from a down hill slope to learn how to do it.
Here are the 4 adjustments I recommend:
Tailor set-up for slope
Position ball back in stance
Swing with the slope
Chase ball down the slope
Keep two things in mind when faced with a downhill lie: (1) a shot from a down slope tends to fade right and (2) the slope affects the club’s loft.
The tendency to fade is a by-product of the slope. There’s little you can do about it. Even if you hit the ball perfectly, it will tend to fade right, so learn to deal with it as best you can, as I emphasize in my golf lessons.
Club loft is different. You can deal with it easily enough. On a steep slope, hitting a 7-iron becomes more like hitting a 5-iron, necessitating an adjustment in club selection depending on how far you are from the green. How much of an adjustment is hard to say. And golf instruction sessions don’t help, either. Only personal experience can tell you just how much to make.
Also, tailor your set up to the slope. That means making sure your spine is perpendicular to the slope and your weight on your front foot, a weight distribution you must maintain throughout the backswing. As a result, your shoulders will tilt downward to match the lie of the land. These changes ensure clean contact with the ball, positioned toward the back of the stance.
Another problem with downhill lies is trajectory. To generate height, hit down and with the slope, as if you’re chasing the ball downhill. Chase it for as long as possible by forcing your right shoulder to follow the ball to the target.
Also, don’t let the transfer of weight get out of control at impact. Stay as balanced as possible, finishing the swing with a nice, smooth follow-through. Clearing your left hip as you swing down and through the ball helps with the follow-through.
These changes in your set-up and swing, as I point out in my golf lessons, almost mirror those needed for uphill lies.
With uphill lies, the weight is on the back foot, the ball is positioned forward in the stance, and the tendency is to pull the ball left, which is caused by a golfer’s hands getting overactive through impact. Also, concentrate on making a wide takeaway. This change counteracts the tendency to narrow your backswing, which often occurs on an uphill lie.
Whether uphill or downhill, you must control weight transfer and you must swing down and with the slope. You also must control your head, keeping it behind the ball at the point of impact.
If you make the changes I recommend in this golf tip the next time you play a hilly course, you’ll find yourself hitting better shots from a sloped fairway. You’ll also find yourself developing more and more confidence playing a hilly course—and confidence never hurt anyone’s golf handicap.